Posts Tagged death

Mercury Rising

It’s Monday. I made it.

The last week has been horrendous. Hellacious. A battle on every front, during which I could only seem to stand my ground, moving neither forward nor back. “If I can make it to Monday,” I would tell myself, “Then it’ll be ok.” ‘Make it to Monday’ was my mantra.

I’m sure we’ve all had times like this. Periods of difficulty, where each day seems to last at least a year, with so much thrown at us that we feel like simply giving up in the face of the deluge.

I’m no expert in astrology, but we’ve just come out of a period of Mercury retrograde – a time of pause and reflection. Because basically, if you try to do anything… forget it. It is not happening. Stars or not, this sums up the last few weeks. Mercury, God of travel and communication, was going backwards.

No matter what I did, I was stymied. Talks fell through, emails went unanswered (or receiving vague and unhelpful answers at best) – the world seemed to be moving, but just not the part I was in. Writing didn’t flow, any work was a challenge. So many pieces of technology broke or failed; even my shoes fell apart. Sometimes it felt as if I was bashing my head against a wall. What was I supposed to do with my time?! I do like to keep busy; even when relaxing, I like to be doing something, be is reading, knitting… whatever comes to hand. Even these simple activities couldn’t keep my attention.

And then last weekend, my first ever animal friend, who had been in my life since his ‘rescue’ from a local sanctuary, took himself out of the living room window with a brief final look at me… and vanished. He’s been ill for a while, had Harry the geriatric cat – an inoperable ear condition that meant he was fairly deaf (and so wonky enough that he missed when jumping at objects, which confused him no end), losing his sight, with no teeth and all the signs of senility.

He was scared of the mattress, because of how it felt underfoot – but he snuggled into bed with me when I was alone after my divorce. His loud purr from my lap was such a comfort. We’d play ‘licky/kicky’ games together on the stair (he grabbed and kicked at my fingers, I’d tickle his belly).

But now, it seemed, his time was done.

Lovely folk confirmed to me that ‘this is something cats do’ – they take themselves away to find a quiet place, where they won’t be found. In one sense, that hurts; but in another, I understand.

I found myself nodding. Because over these same past few weeks (months?), I’d been thinking the same. When the darkness seemed inescapable, with no way out… I’d considered taking myself away, for the sake of everyone.

Yes, I know – irrational. Depression does that. Things that would seem manageable, easy to deal with when perspective is ‘normal’ can be almost the end of the world when you’re down in the dark. Getting dressed is a challenge; leaving the house akin to scaling Everest. It may not be ‘all about me’, I may be selfish and inconsiderate… but sometimes there just isn’t anything outside your own head. That’s how it can feel. And it’s so very scary.

Last week, it seemed that knock came after knock. If I could just make it through… I kept telling myself, over and over. It wasn’t all about me. But feeling trapped and alone (even if I wasn’t) made it seem so.

I had to trust that Harry had done what he thought best. I had to trust myself, that I had the strength to survive (and that survival was, in fact, the right decision). This, too, will pass.

Mercury was taking me deep.

Years ago, when I first dipped a toe into Paganism, I sat in my bedroom and meditated, nervously asking for any deity who might like to take me on to make themselves known. I was curious, but had no real idea what I was getting into. But I had made my decision, and asked the question. I’m not sure what I expected, but certainly not who arrived.

A beautiful lady with the head of a cat stepped forward, shining and golden. I was taken on, as a kitten perhaps: a trainee priestess of Bast.

I had no idea what I was doing. But I was so staggered at the force of the experience, I resolved to simply (!) do my best.

Over the years since, my Lady has moved more into the background; a constant presence, but letting me learn what I have to. I’ve come to understand the fluidity of Deity, how personification is a human need, but which those forces which guide us can use to help us see what needs to be seen.

I’ve worked closely with other deities since, from Sekhmet to Hekate, Herne and Loki (not all at once!). I’ve learned. But She has been there, to be glimpsed when least expected. In no way separate from my life, but constant, present, in all Her aspects.

Harry was my friend, companion and guardian – but he was always his own person. I’m now in a house full of canines (all male). Life takes us on strange, winding routes.

I’ve made it to Monday. I’ve been reading the tales of others this morning, online and in print, the curling paths of life. Simple actions have taken on the importance of prayer – I’ve made it (this far).

We ebb and flow. Ourselves and those forces that we connect with – the stars, the gods, those living beings we share space with, larger forces of Nature that we are subject to. We touch and part. We learn and teach, inspire and are inspired.

I think back to the past week. To those shining lights which glowed all the more strongly for the hardness that they broke through. A call from a friend; a simple message. A request, a shared thought, a gift. A story can be the most powerful of connections, a smile the greatest achievement. A memory, held close.

Monday morning. The next week stretches ahead. My body is free from pain; my mind free from darkness. I honour what is past, promising not to forget. And step forward.

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Tis the Season…

December is a month of noise. Lights, songs… sheer stuff. Preparations for Christmas (or the midwinter festival of your choice), then the day itself, then the aftermath, into New Year… and of course we all know about the increased pressure, stress, busy-ness, etc. The silly season more than Summer ever is.

This weekend, I mentioned to a relative the importance of teaching her children the true meaning of the season. She agreed wholeheartedly – and her eldest knows all about the Nativity, although she’s had a terrible time finding him a camel outfit on eBay.

Today on the radio, the DJ read a message from a listener that bemoaned a fight between husband and wife over who had to take their children to a Carol Concert, when they’d actually rather stay at home.

And before any moral high ground is taken, I’ve heard Pagan folk bemoaning the lack of decent gifts to buy for their loved ones. ‘Create your own?’ I suggested… to be met with looks of outright horror.

It’s easy to laugh at the trivial, the ridiculous – ‘problems’ that we’d never even consider at any other time, but seem inflated somehow by the expectations of the season.

But it’s also easy to forget that the importance of a festival at the darkest time of the year is simply to keep ourselves moving. To remind ourselves that we’re still here, still alive (trivia and all).

Today, supermarkets are bustling with people filling their trolleys with goods, to eat and drink to excess over the season of cheer. Not too long ago, if our ancestors hadn’t harvested enough to survive, they’d be squirrelling (literally) away every grain and drop, in order to survive until Spring.

Yule is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. After that, we start the slow journey back towards the long-ago – and far ahead – days of Summer, but still with a fair amount of cold, wintry time until the snowdrops poke their heads into view, let alone the buttercups.

As Pagans, we’re (hopefully) aware of the need for balance. Light and dark, summer and winter…

As some of you may know, I worked for a while in End of Life Care within the NHS. This means, very basically, administrating the wishes of terminal patients, to ensure that they receive the care they wish in their last moments. Yes, this includes ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Orders. I’ve had heated discussions (read: keeping professional and biting my lip while being yelled at) with medical professionals, who insist that I’m endorsing euthanasia. I’m not: I’m endorsing individual responsibility. This is a real challenge in a system of policy, expectation, best intentions for the greater good, and potential litigation.

I’ve worked harder than ever on Christmas Eve, while my office partied around me, to ensure that terminal children had the best possible time with their families prior to their imminent demise. That dementia patients with no next of kin received a good standard of care. The basic respect of life from our fellow human beings, when we need it most, and in the Season of Giving.

And then they move on. And I’m perhaps the only one who remembers their name, who lights a candle, sheds a tear and says a prayer to the Lords of the Otherworld. Who helps them to move forward into that ultimate unknown. My roles merge and I learn.

Winter is a time of death. Peaceful? A simple grave covered with snow? Or becoming another statistic, an elderly person unable to survive the cold because they can’t afford food and heat? A heart attack brought on by too much rich food? Life and death, feast or famine…

We are humans. We battle on. There are always challenges, the most basic of which is to stay alive. In modern times, we have the strangest relationship with death – we avoid it, look away, try to pretend it isn’t happening. But then it may hurt all the more when it inevitably does. It leaves us confused, stumbling, unsure what to do. ‘That can’t have happened’… but it has.

Today, I was both honoured and saddened to be leading that most difficult of rites: a passing for an unborn child. Nature has no care for season, or appropriate timing. Some things just have to be.

Words were said. The little girl was passed into the care of her ancestors, to return again should the time be right. A single candle burns for her, before us and in the hearts of her family.

And then came the balance. Life goes on, laughter returned, as we celebrated the joy that was her brother enjoying his toys, witnessing his giggle as he fell down while practising that trick of walking upright that we’re all so good at. Decorations were hung up, by a heart that longed for simple peace and quiet. Time is finally found to just be a family together, to move, rather than just going through the motions.

The lights may be bright, the kitchen smells enticing, but the cold wind is only a window away. As Druid and Priest I walk this line, between the living and  the dead, seeing and drawing out the needs of both that are equally forgotten in all the noise, pomp and circumstance.

December is not about money, not about Things. It’s about relationship, about us, together. Surviving, moving forward, celebrating our time properly. Seeing into our hearts, and the hearts of those we love.

The year turns and we turn with it, telling our stories day by day. Some stories end; others are left to tell them. Remembering can be the highest honour, the most valuable gift.

Not all of us will make it to Spring. This is why we celebrate. Living is the miracle. Each of us is a light.

Hold to your loved ones this season, lovely readers. Hold your stories proudly. Remember what is true, in heart and soul. And practise those oldest of rites: raise a glass or light a candle… because you are still here to do so.

Know that you are honoured, and that you are never alone – in life or death.

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